1976 vs 2023

Ed: This piece is about fiction and non-fiction.  It’s rather long (1812 words), but  a snappy sort of read. Sincerest thanks to SAC.

Sidney Aaron “Paddy” Chayefsky won three Academy Awards, making him the only three-time solo recipient of a screenwriting Oscar. The third was for Network, a brutal satire about the Television Industry. Paddy’s Network was ominously prescient, released in 1976/77 at the onset of Jimmy Carter’s ruinous reign as POTUS. Carter was known for his Misery Index (interest rates as high as 20%, inflation at 13.5% and unemployment at 9%. Perhaps Chayefsky was a visionary, able to foresee repetitive folly. Even more dramatic — he unwittingly seemed to predict the infamous philosophy of Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum.

It’s up to you to make the comparison between 1976 and 2023. The fictional Union Broadcasting System (UBS), struggling with poor ratings, decides to trot out its depressed news anchor who threatens to kill himself on the air. Instead he delivers a rant about life’s being “bullshit.”

Howard Beale
I don’t have to tell you things
are bad. Everybody knows things
are bad. It’s a depression.
Everybody’s out of work or scared
of losing their job, the dollar
buys a nickel’s worth, banks are
going bust, shopkeepers keep a
gun under the counter, punks
are running wild in the streets,
and there’s nobody anywhere who
seems to know what to do, and
there’s no end to it. We know
the air’s unfit to breathe and
our food is unfit to eat, and
we sit and watch our TV’s
while some local newscaster
tells us today we had fifteen
homicides and sixty-three
violent crimes, as if that’s
the way it’s supposed to be.
We all know things are bad.
Worse than bad. They’re crazy.
It’s like everything’s going
crazy. So we don’t go out any
more. We sit in the house, and
slowly the world we live in
gets smaller, and all we ask is
please, at least leave us alone
in our own living rooms. . . and
I won’t say anything, just leave
us alone. Well, I’m not going to
leave you alone. I want you to
get mad — I don’t want you to riot.
I don’t want you to protest. I
don’t want you to write your
congressmen. Because I wouldn’t
know what to tell you to write.
I don’t know what to do about the
depression and the inflation and
the defense budget and the Russians
and crime in the street. All
I know is first you got to get
mad. You’ve got to say: “I’m
mad as hell and I’m not going
to take this any more. I’m a
human being, goddammit. My life
has value.” So I want you to
get up now. I want you to get
out of your chairs and go to
the window. Right now. I want
you to go to the window, open
it, and stick your head out
and yell. I want you to yell:
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not
going to take this any more!”

The people ate it up. Ratings soared. Beale’s second rant was fueled by the death of his boss. He decides to expose Television as a Godless liar. It’s up to you to make the comparison between UBS in 1976 and NBC, CNN, ABC and CBS in 2023.

Howard Beale
Edward George Ruddy died today!
Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman
of the Board of the Union Broad-
casting Systems — and woe is us
if it ever falls in the hands of
the wrong people. And that’s why
woe is us that Edward George Ruddy
died. Because this network is now
in the hands of CC and A the
Communications Corporation of
America. We’ve got a new Chairman
of the Board, a man named Frank
Hackett now sitting in Mr. Ruddy’s
office on the twentieth floor. And
when the twelfth largest company in
the world controls the most awesome
goddamned propaganda force in the
whole godless world, who knows what
shit will be peddled for truth on
this tube? So, listen to me!
Television is not the truth! Tele-
vision is a goddamned amusement
park, that’s what television is!
Television is a circus, a carnival,
a traveling troupe of acrobats and
story-tellers, singers and dancers,
jugglers, side-show freaks, lion-
tamers and football players. We’re
in the boredom-killing business!
If you want truth, go to God, go
to your guru, go to yourself because
that’s the only place you’ll ever
find any real truth! But, man,
you’re never going to get any truth
from us. We’ll tell you anything
you want to hear. We lie like hell!
. . . We’ll tell you any shit
you want to hear! We deal in illusion
None of it’s true! But you people sit
there — all of you — day after day,
night after night, all ages, colors,
creeds — we’re all you know. You’re
beginning to believe this illusion
we’re spinning here. You’re be-
ginning to think the tube is reality
and your own lives are unreal. You
do whatever the tube tells you. You
dress like the tube, you eat like
the tube, you raise your children
like the tube, you think like the
tube. This is mass madness, you
maniacs! In God’s name, you people
are the real thing! We’re the illu-
sions. So turn off this goddam
set! Turn it off right now! Turn
it off and leave it off. Turn it
off right now, right in the middle
of this very sentence I’m speaking
. . . . . .

The people ate it up. Then Beale delivers a rant about a giant media corporation acquiring USB for something called the Saudi-Arabian Investment Corporation. Detailing how much of America is already owned by the Arabs. he condemns corporate America for selling out the people. Then, USB Chairman Arthur Jensen calls Beale for a little face to face chat. It’s up to you to make the comparison between 1976 Saudi Arabia and 2023 China; then between Jensen’s lecture and the 21st Century New World Order.

You have meddled with the primal
forces of nature, Mr. Beale . . .
You are an old man who thinks in
terms of nations and peoples. There
are no nations! There are no peoples!
There are no Russians. There are no
Arabs! There are no third worlds!
There is no West! There is only one
holistic system of systems, one vast
and interwoven, interacting,
multi-variate, multi-national
dominion of dollars! . . . petro-
dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!,
Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and
shekels! It is the international
system of currency that determines
the totality of life on this planet.
That is the natural order of things
today! That is the atomic,
subatomic and galactic structure of
things today. And you have meddled
with the primal forces of nature,
and you will atone!
You . . . howl about America and
democracy. There is no America.
There is no democracy.
There is only IBM and ITT and A T
and T . . . and Exxon. These are
the nations of the world today. . . .
We no longer live in a world of nations
and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The
world is a college of corporations,
inexorably determined by the
immutable by-laws of business. The
world is a business, Mr. Beale! It
has been since man crawled out of
the slime, and our children, Mr.
Beale, will live to see that perfect
world in which there is no war and
famine, oppression and brutality —
one vast and ecumenical holding
company, for whom all men will work
to serve a common profit, in which
all men will hold a share of stock,
all necessities provided, all
anxieties tranquilized, all boredom
amused. And I have chosen you to
preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.

Beale abandons his previous thinking and preaches the new world message. It’s up to you to decide if this fictitious summary has any resemblance or relevance to the world you live in.

Last night, I got up here and asked
you people to stand up and fight for
your heritage, and you did and it
was beautiful. . . Six million
telegrams were received at the White
House . . . The people spoke,
the people won. It was a radiant
eruption of democracy. That sort of
thing isn’t likely to happen
again. Because, in the bottom of
all our terrified souls, we all know
that democracy is a dying giant, a
sick, sick dying, decaying political
concept, writhing in its final pain.

I don’t mean the United States is
finished as a world power. The
United States is the most powerful,
the richest, the most advanced
country in the world, light-years
ahead of any other country. And I
don’t mean the Communists are going
to take over the world. The
Communists are deader than we are.
What’s finished is the idea that
this great country is dedicated to
the freedom and flourishing of every
individual in it. It’s the
individual that’s finished. It’s
the single, solitary human being
who’s finished. It’s every single
one of you out there who’s finished.
Because this is no longer a nation
of independent individuals. This is
a nation of two hundred odd million
transistorized, deodorized,
whiter-than-white, steel-belted
bodies, totally unnecessary as human
beings and as replaceable as piston
rods — Well, the time has come to say:
is dehumanization such a bad word?
Because good or bad, that’s what’s
so. The whole world is becoming
humanoid, creatures that look human
but aren’t. The whole world, not
just us. We’re just the most
advanced country, so we’re getting
there first — The whole world’s . . .
becoming mass-produced, programmed,
wired, insensate things, useful only
to produce and consume other
mass-produced things, all of them as
unnecessary and useless as we are —
— that’s the simple truth you
have to grasp, that human existence
is an utterly futile and purposeless
thing — because once you’ve grasped
that, then the whole universe becomes
orderly and comprehensible . . . This
world quite simply is a vast cosmology
of small corporations orbiting around
larger corporations who, in turn,
revolve around giant corporations —
and this whole, endless, ultimate
cosmology is expressly designed for
the production and consumption of
useless things —

P.S. Howard Beale’s new message was a major flop. UBS ratings plummeted in a very short time. To save face, USB hired an assassin who took out Beale while he was on the air. According to reports, his was the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.

P.S. 2 For his performance as Howard Beale, Peter Finch won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Ironically, it was a posthumous award. He died several months after film completion. He was 60.


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